It’s official. The tale with more twists and turns than a Netflix box set has reached its nerve-shredding conclusion.
Well, maybe. Or maybe the singular story of a one-storey flat in Oxton, once home to Ron Gittins, is just getting started.
What we do know is that, at the 11th hour, the hammer fell on the auction and the flat was sold to the good people of Saving Ron’s Place: the tireless volunteers who’ve campaigned to save this gallery of audacious outsider art for all of us.
“Over the last three years, a small group of volunteers and I have fought hard to try and find a way to save Ron’s Place,” filmmaker and arts activist Martin Wallace told us.
“We did it not just because it’s a unique and internationally significant place in itself, but because we could see how Ron’s could form the hub of an inspirational creative programme focused on improving mental health and wellbeing of anyone who comes through its doors,” he says. Well, we say ‘doors’…but they’re more like totemic portals to a hitherto-hidden underworld of fabulous beasts and Roman altarpieces.
For Martin the crusade was as much about promoting a wider sense of community through exhibits, workshops and connections made in this eye-popping apartment, rich with Egyptian hieroglyphs, papier-mâché sculpture of Cleopatra and strange and wondrous creatures.
“Over these three years, we’d tried to find a suitable partner to help us buy the building. However, for various reasons, we could never quite achieve that, although we came close,” he says.
Then, after the group had been given its notice, and they’d handed the keys back to the current owner, something as strange and wonderful as Ron’s artwork itself happened…
On the day of the auction Tamsin Wimhurst was on a train. Trustee of the Muller Wimhurst Trust, Tamsin and her partner Michael Muller are also responsible for saving the David Parr House, a small Arts and Crafts museum in Cambridge. Skimming through the day’s Guardian, Tamsin spotted the story about Ron’s Place.
“Tamsin had been in a similar situation when she’d discovered the amazing terraced house in Cambridge, now known as David Parr House,” Martin says. “She bought that house and it’s now a thriving centre which offers a unique time capsule into the late 1800s, when David Parr created the interior.”
“I just thought ‘How could it not be saved?’” Tamsin tells us. “It’s unique and quirky, with the passion of one man’s life laid bare on the walls of his home. It immediately gets your mind whirring – how, why, who, what, when?”
For Tamsin, and Martin, the answers to all these questions begin to form a narrative that will be the starting point for the many ways to use Ron’s home to inspire others.
For Ron’s niece, Jan Williams, founder of the Saving Ron’s Place campaign and half of artist duo The Caravan Gallery, the past three years has been nothing short of tumultuous: “We were on the verge of saying our final goodbyes to Ron’s in the run-up to the auction,” Jan admits.
“You can imagine how utterly gobsmacked we were on the morning of the auction to receive a message from a complete stranger offering to lend us the money to bid at auction.”
After a frantic couple of hours putting everything in place, Wirral Arts and Culture Community Land Trust now owns the building which will, once refurbished, include affordable housing.
“Of course this is just the beginning of the next phase in our Ron’s Place adventure and there’s loads of hard work ahead,” Jan says.
“There’s huge potential to share the magic of Ron’s with people in the local community and beyond. Everyone who’s crossed the threshold into the amazing world Ron created in his rented flat is taken aback by the sheer scale and audacity of his vision.
"It’s a proven fact that creativity is beneficial to our wellbeing and it certainly kept Ron going through some difficult times,” Jan adds.
“We know that Ron’s Place is going to make a fantastically positive impact in people’s lives and it’s so great that it's right here in Birkenhead.”
“This is when the really hard work starts,” says Martin. “This whole process will likely take up to two years before it’s entirely complete.
“They’ve come this far,” says Tamsin. “How can they not succeed?”